Last week, Gallaudet University suspended its chief diversity officer, Dr. Angela McCaskill, after a faculty member filed a complaint that she had signed the petition to challenge Maryland’s marriage equality law. McCaskill suggested she might pursue legal action, but said little else before the end of the week. Today, she spoke out for the first time, explaining her signature and suggesting she would be seeking compensation for emotional distress and reputation damage:
MCCASKILL: Signing that petition is a right that I have as a citizen of the state of Maryland. It simply means that I want to see this very sensitive issue put on the ballot as a referendum in the state of Maryland. [...] I am dismayed that Gallaudet University is still a university of intolerance, a university that manages by intimidation, a university that allows bullying among faculty, staff and students.
Gallaudet President Alan Hurwitz released a statement this morning welcoming McCaskill back to her job, but explaining that the administrative leave was a “prudent action” to allow the university to consider whether her actions violated her job responsibilities. Hurwitz did not specifically address the LGBT community or how McCaskill’s actions may have impacted gay students and staff on campus.
Though many of the governing variables differ, the situation resembles the 2008 case of Crystal Dixon, who as associate vice president for human resources at the University of Toledo wrote a letter to the Toledo Free Press condemning homosexuality as a choice and countering the notion that gay people are “civil-rights victims.” Dixon was fired, and in turn sued the university for violating her free speech. The federal district court ruled that her remarks, as a public employee, were sufficiently insubordinate to her job responsibilities and dismissed her suit. It’s unclear if McCaskill would fare any better in her complaint.
Still, her defense of her signature was clearly fed to her by opponents of marriage equality. There was no valid reason to sign the petition except to support an obstacle to the law taking effect. The argument that people should have the opportunity to vote on civil rights is no less offensive — nor different in any way — than directly opposing marriage equality. Given that her lawyer has said she will not express her personal view on the matter, concerns about her ability to support gay Gallaudet students, as outlined in the vision statement of its Office of Diversity and Equity for Students, may be legitimately warranted.